OCTOBER 24, 2014
One of the biggest myths in the business world is that start-ups are no place for Baby Boomers, that aging generation born between 1945 and 1964. They couldn’t possibly understand the new social-media culture, new technologies or have the determination to beat their younger counterparts in the market. Yet credible reports on current trends tell us just the opposite.
According to the most recent report from the Kauffman Foundation, the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America shifted a few years ago to the Boomer age group, compared to Gen-X (1965 to 1980) and Gen-Y (1981 to 1995). Today people over 55 are almost twice as likely to create successful startups as those ages 20 to 34.
A report from Gallup confirms that Boomers are still a third of the workforce, equal in size to the Gen-X segment and the Gen-Y segment. Don’t expect them to go away any time soon. Gallup says the Boomer demographic is the largest and still growing mainstream pool of experienced talent in the market today (76 million people strong).
The trend toward entrepreneurship in that group is sometimes called seniorpreneurship, where people over 50 take the helm of a new leading-edge high-opportunity venture. They include people such as Richard Branson, born in 1950, who has founded over 400 companies, and claims to be just getting started.
Boomers are well-qualified overall, having worked with high technology and computers for at least 20 years, highly educated and highly motivated. In addition to being the start-up entrepreneur, there are other key roles where Boomers can be a force in driving successful start-ups, in concert with leaders from Gen-X and Gen-Y:
1. Early-stage angel investors
Boomer investors are much more likely to get in the game with a high focus on mentoring and give-back, as well as the financial return potential. They want to share your satisfaction in success, maybe as a reward for their own mistakes and learning earlier in life in their own businesses.
2. Supportive co-founder and executive positions
Every young entrepreneur needs an experienced partner for credibility with investors, and as a trusted cohort for strategy and growth discussions. Often the Boomer is more willing to work for equity, and easily convinced to step aside when revenues reach that next threshold.
3. Member of the advisory board
Every start-up needs two or three key advisors who have the domain experience, connections and complementary skills to guide the founders through those early crises. Boomers are more likely to give you the time and guidance that you need, and give your executive team additional visibility.
4. Manage customer service
They probably have arbitrated differences many times before in their lives, and know how important it is to remain calm and soft-spoken in the face of emotional customers and processes that are not working. Often a little gray hair gives added credibility to their efforts, and provides a role model for other support roles.
5. Personnel manager
This is one of the key roles in a growing new company that can benefit from someone who clearly has experience dealing with people — whether it be hiring and firing, assisting in performance reviews or dealing with the day-to-day crises of any growing business. All the learning from parenting pays big dividends here.
On the other hand, there are some roles in a start-up where Boomers are probably not the best candidates:
- Constantly-on-the-road sales territory management roles
- Software and hardware development architects and designers
- Marketing and sales to Gen-Y customers
- Labor-intensive roles, including warehousing and construction
For aspiring new entrepreneurs of any age, this is an opportunity for a win-win situation, with the proper mix of Boomers, Gen-X and Gen-Y employees and executives. It’s time to think again that the domain of entrepreneurs is only for the under-35 crowd.
The large crop of Boomers is only going to get larger as we live healthier and work longer. Be inclusive, and let’s continue to make entrepreneurship one of the most fun things around.